I fell asleep on the job — on my first day

A reader writes:

Last May, I graduated from college. I’ve had just the most terrible time finding a job, in my field or outside of it. I’ve had several interviews over the last year of job searching, but not so much luck.

However, a few months after graduating, I came into contact with a company in my area hiring for positions in my field. By September, after having a phone interview and an in-person interview, I was offered an entry-level position with the company and I was ecstatic. It was great pay, eventual great benefits, the company was small but growing, the people all seemed super friendly…it was the perfect place to start my career.

My first day on the job rolls around and I was a nervous wreck. I was having stomach issues, nerves, and I tossed and turned all night. I made the hour drive to the workplace and went in with high hopes and a sense of accomplishment. All was going well and I was satisfied with the first day. I was scheduled from 9-5 that day to be able to work with the manager and learn the job before I started my real shifts and everything. It was around 4:30, I was sitting in the area with the manager, a coworker, and another associate. I guess in one way or another I dozed off in the chair, totally not intentional, just some horrible thing. And I know this is something you absolutely DO NOT do at work, and certainly not on your first day. But it happened.

Five rolls around, and I go home. I go in the next morning and my manager pulls me aside and says the whole thing about that’s unacceptable behavior and it won’t be tolerated and he let me go. I couldn’t explain or anything, his mind was made up. So one day and I get fired. And since then, I haven’t been able to get as far with a company…I can’t even seem to get close. This situation/experience has really killed my confidence in myself and I’m struggling to just get any kind of job now.

So, I guess I just would be super grateful for some advice and maybe some reassurance that this happens to people and I won’t be forever doomed and forever unemployed. I know I’ve just been a year out of college, but it’s still truly discouraging! But I truly need some help as to how to address this on applications and in interviews. I obviously wouldn’t bring this up if I wasn’t asked, nor would I put it on a resume because it’s definitely not something that would boost my value. However, if asked on an application if I’ve ever been fired/terminated/let go/asked to leave, is it lying if I say no or do I have to say yes…even though it was only ONE DAY with this company? I don’t know if that shows up on anything, but I definitely would want to be honest, but I’m just not sure how to go about it without making myself look super awful and pathetic.

Honestly, I just want to put this behind me and move on, I’m just having trouble doing so because I don’t know how to address it on an application or interview if it comes up, and because well…it has truly discouraged me and nicked my confidence down to just about nothing.

Ugh, that’s not good.

I remember starting one of my first jobs out of college and finding the first day absolutely exhausting, to the point that my eyelids felt heavy in an afternoon meeting that first day. There’s something about having to be “on” for eight straight hours when you’re not used to it yet that really can be exhausting. You get used to it pretty fast, but that first day when you’re just starting out can be brutal.

So while falling asleep on the job — let alone on your first day — is obviously Not Good, it doesn’t mean you’re a horrible person or that you’ll never get a job again. And I also suspect this will be a great story to tell in 10 years.

But it’s not 10 years out yet, and you feel terrible right now, so let’s tackle that.

First, I do not think you need to put this on applications, just as you’re not putting it on your resume. It was one day, for crying out loud. It barely counts as a job. The chances of this being tracked down and hurting you in some way are close to zero. (And yes, some people will tell you that you have to put it on applications anyway, because they ask you to list every job you’ve ever had, blah blah blah, but practically speaking, it’s incredibly unlikely to ever come up again. And the risk that it will is far outweighed by the probable harm of including it.)

Second, you say this has destroyed your confidence, but it should not. After all, you were not fired because of your work or your interpersonal skills or anything that’s really about you as a person. Unless you are in the habit of going around sleeping when you should not be, or not taking important things seriously (but you sound pretty conscientious, so I doubt that’s the case), this was just terrible luck.

Of course, if I’m wrong and actually you are pretty laissez-faire in your approach to important things, then take this as a wake-up call that you need to stop that. (Wake-up call! Hahahahaha!)

But you know, you sound like you’re mortified and like you absolutely understand that falling asleep at work isn’t okay. You don’t sound like someone who needs to be lectured or shamed about it. You get it. So this is a much different response and a much different prognosis for you than if you’d sounded cavalier about it or indignant that you were fired. The fact that you get it means that you get to move on from it, as is the case with most big mistakes.

I’m sorry this happened to you. It sucks. But you will move on from it, I promise, and meanwhile you have my permission to wipe this dark day from your mind and function as if it did not happen (aside from any wake-up call that it signals you need, and aside from 10 years from now, when you will pull this story back out from the far recesses of your mind and regale people with it).

Read an update to this letter

{ 251 comments… read them below }

  1. AllisonD*

    I agree with AAM. You have thoroughly thought this through and now it is time to forget it. Some mistakes you only make once and this is one of them. It is behind you; no need to include this on a resume or say you were fired.

    1. Anonymous*

      Regular commenter going anon for this…

      Agree, and the ONLY reason I might say you should look into this further is if you have ever had a problem with falling asleep at a bad time before. I’m not just talking about work or school — have you ever fallen asleep at a movie you really wanted to see, a party, etc? Because if you have, then you might want to get checked out for narcolepsy. I have a mild case and before I was diagnosed, I got some severe dressings-down for nodding off in meetings. I could have been fired. Now that I’m diagnosed and being treated properly, I don’t have to worry that I’m going to lose control of my brain any more.

      If this has never happened before and you’re pretty sure it has to do with your anxiety and fatigue from not having gotten any sleep the night before, then I agree 100% with the above advice — but if there’s a chance this is a larger medical issue, please get it looked at as soon as you can (and I know that’s hard to do if you’re unemployed and don’t have medical insurance). It could save you at your next job!

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Well, I’m not the OP, but…I fell asleep at Blue Man Group and I’ve fallen asleep in a lot of meetings & driving (not really anymore, but when I had a long commute). I think I’m just tired, usually. I’m not sure what the deal was with Blue Man – it was fun & a good show, but it didn’t start till late and I normally go to bed at 10:00. It would be kind of amusing to find out I had a medical condition after all these years of thinking I just needed to get more sleep.

        1. Lora*

          Oh my goodness, please do get this checked! There are loads of medical conditions that people write off as “just tired” or “just stressed,” which are very treatable–and if they go untreated too long can actually be very damaging to your health. All kinds of endocrine problems, heart disease, can cause you to feel tired suddenly and at inappropriate times when you never used to get tired. Plus, while driving you don’t want to get into an accident, please stay safe!

          1. AnotherAlison*

            To which I was going to reply, nah, you should see my son. He fits the bill much better than I do. . .he snores, he zonks out all the time after school, in the evening, when reading, in class. I’m no where near his level. And then I realized it could be a genetic thing. : )

        2. anon o*

          I did go to my doctor about this and her diagnosis: “You need to get a new job.” I’m working on it. Sometimes it is just the usual and people are just tired from life.

      2. Samantha*

        Agree about getting checked for narcolepsy if the nodding off tends to happen at times of stress or anxiety, as those are often triggers for episodes of sleep.

      3. Evan the College Student*

        I used to have some trouble with getting tired at inopportune times, but I really just needed more sleep – when I started going to bed at reasonable times instead of staying up until 2 AM having fun, the problems all went away. So, I’d suggest trying getting more sleep before, or at least along with, seeing a doctor. (And just eight hours a night isn’t necessarily enough for everyone; I find that I typically need at least eight and a half. I don’t think that means anything’s wrong with me.)

        1. TL*

          For what it’s worth, the recommendation is actually 7-9 hrs of sleep/night – it’s highly variable.

          And there are people who legitimately only need a a couple of hours of sleep every night. (I’m so jealous!)

          1. Jamie*

            I know people who are fine on 4. If that was something you could acquire I’d spend my life trying to be that way…I would LOVE all that extra time.

            I do love to sleep – but if I go to many days without a solid 8 I feel it. Funny – when I was younger I could pull an all nighter and keep going all day. Now…I need to sleep and eat something that doesn’t come in cellophane in order to feel human. It sucks.

      4. Lindsay*

        Wow thanks for this! I have dozed off at a metal concert before, and regularly at movies, etc, and once at a family party which made my parents furious. I never thought much of it but now I’ll mention it to my doctor.

      5. K from Canada*

        As someone with mild narcolepsy and sever sleep apnea I 100% agree with Anonymous.

  2. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog*

    You’re not a bad person. It happened. Work on your positive self-talk. Don’t put yourself down in you thoughts – that’ll just make things worse. Keep reminding yourself of your successes.

    You didn’t mention this in your letter – but have considered getting any old keep-it-together job? Like temping, working at the mall, or waiting tables? You’ll have some income, being busy will keep you sane, give you a better feel for workplace norms, and will put something – anything – on your resume. I hope that’s still realistic advice for recent grads – I realize things have changed since I graduated in the early ‘aughts.

    1. Allison*

      It’s realistic advice, but I also think it’s reasonable to try to get an entry level job on your field before resorting to taking anything that’ll take you. I also think it’s not unheard of to take an unpaid internship for a little while and live at home like I did (the internship may not have any direct payout but it’s more likely to have a good long-term benefit than waiting tables). I had started applying for minimum wage retail job before getting the job I have now, but I’d hate to think of someone calling me lazy or unmotivated for not applying to TGI Fridays the second my commencement was over.

    2. The Other Meg*

      I think it’s totally realistic advice. I’m in my first full-time entry level position after college, and I temped at a couple different places for about 9 months beforehand. It was a great way to put experience on my resume, learn office cultures and norms, and earn a (albeit smaller) paycheck. I would even recommend it for some people over an unpaid internship, although in fairness, I didn’t have a specific field I really wanted to get into.

      Definitely do your research on temp agencies before you sign up – they can range from slightly shady to full-blown scams. But if you find a decent one, I am all for temping as a way to get in the door.

      1. De Minimis*

        Temping is a good idea—I would try to at least stick to office work.

        It’s not always possibe, though. People also should realize that a lot of places with weaker job markets don’t really have much to offer in the way of “survival jobs.” It just depends on how things are in the OP’s location. I know where I used to live you would literally have a thousand people line up to work at a new restaurant or call center.

        1. Rana*

          Agreed. Temping used to be my fall-back option for when I was between jobs, and it’s gotten a LOT harder to find work as a temp, unless you have some specialized, high-demand skill.

  3. patcherific*

    Being totally upfront… has this ever happened before? I know it’s your first job, but have you ever fallen asleep at the end of a day or at any inappropriate time?I find the situation nearly unbelievable (sorry) to the point that I think you might have an issue to check out! anyway Your confidence shouldn’t be too shaken. In the end it’s one day of your life and you will definitely find other opportunities. Just stay well!

    1. Oxford Comma*

      Note the fact that the OP talks about having terrific stress and anxiety the night before. The OP gets through most of the day and then falls asleep. That’s the body crashing when it finally gets the signal that the worst is over. It’s not unheard of or that abnormal. Obviously, there could be a medical reason, but I can believe this happened.

  4. Brandy*

    I have actually been on the other side of this before. I was an office manager for a small company and my operations manager hired someone to help me in the office without me getting to meet her first because I had been out of town the week before and he wanted to get someone in the position. Well, she starts on a Friday and this poor woman comes in to the office like a hot mess with a million stories as to why she is tired and had a crazy sequence of events the evening before to keep her up much later than she normally would be. She had a hard time concentrating, didn’t take notes, and at one point actually said “don’t mind me if I close my eyes, I’m still listening, they’re just tired”. That was pretty much the straw that broke the camel’s back. At that point I told her to go home and we would start again on Monday. After much deliberation between my manager and myself we decided that this was not going to be the right fit and called her over the weekend to break the news to her.

    I have to say, if you didn’t do any of those things, then I think you should let this go. If you truly were trying and paying attention and taking notes and doing all the things you should be doing on your first day and then this crazy thing happened, which had never happened before, then take it as a bad experience and move on. No need to tell future job prospects about it and no need to beat yourself up over it. Life happens and I’m sure you’ve learned things from this. Good luck!

  5. Milly*

    I got fired after 4 days at a job. It was a crappy retail job that I was desperate to get because I needed a job and money. I got sick and didn’t bother phoning in (mainly because I was in a haze with the illness and the medication and so on, but I dimly knew I should be doing something). I have never put that job on my resume, because…embarassing. They phoned to fire me, my dad answered (was staying at parents’ place while ill) and he has maintained to this day that he informed them of my illness and indicated I would be unable to work for several weeks and they mutually agreed I would not come back to work. My mom immediately confessed I was fired and my dad didn’t get a word in edgewise. I was horrified at the time, but it all works out.

    And yes, I KNOW my parents should not have talked to my boss, but, well, SICK.

  6. Anonymous*

    I had similar trouble staying awake when I first started working too. I had always worked, since high school, but it was only part-time and those jobs often went into the evening. I was used to staying up until 1 or 2 am. My first full-time job was 7-4. I had an extremely difficult time adjusting to the new sleep schedule, not to mention I moved across the country, got a new place, all new furniture, etc. I had no idea staying awake at a job I was excited about would be difficult, but it was. It took me some time to get used to it.

    I’m sorry all this happened to you. I agree with Alison’s advice. Good luck to you.

    1. the gold digger*

      A warning would have been nice. I was falling asleep during my first job out of college because it WAS SO BORING. I was in training 8 hours a day to learn how to be an insurance underwriter. I fell asleep a few times. The VP called me into his office, asked if I really wanted the job, and told me that if I did, I better not fall asleep any more.

      I made sure I had a diet Coke in front of me at all times. I went on to five good years at that company. So it can be overcome. I’m sorry they didn’t at least give you another day to prove you could make it through with your eyes open. Hang in there.

      1. Shelley*

        It sucks he fell asleep, but it happened at the end of the day, (not that this makes it better, but it’s not like he was nodding on and off all day), and I personally think he should have at least received a warning.

    2. Manda*

      I’m a night owl. I could never take a job starting at 7 am. I can’t get up and be out the door in half an hour. 8 is doable, depending on the commute. I had retail job where I occasionally had to start at 7 and those days were brutal. I could never get to bed early enough. I literally felt sick all day.

      1. Jennifer*

        I am a night owl and I HAD a job (for 4 months before getting laid off) that started at 7 a.m. It screwed with my sleep so bad. I would wake up to check the alarm so many times that eventually I’d give up trying to sleep at 4 a.m. because I woke up panicked. UGH. All things considered, losing that one was a blessing.

  7. CoffeeLover*

    I don’t know if this was AAM or maybe EvilHRLady or possibly another similar blog, but I have read your story coming from someone else. It was a while ago, but I believe the person dozed of at their desk accidentally on their first day, and their manager fired them after coming by and seeing them sleep. Point of what I’m saying is, ya, it happens to people and you’re not the only one. Leave it off your resume, continue your job hunt, and after you’re gainfully employed, you’ll be able to look back on this and laugh.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Not here! Not unless someone mentioned a similar story in the comments at some point. (But there’s definitely never been a post on it before.)

          1. Jamie*

            I’ve never read her. This is seriously going to drive me nuts – I can’t wait to get home and go over google with a fine tooth comb until I find it. (Don’t mind me, just hyper focusing on the trivial.)

            1. OneoftheMichelles*

              You’re not crazy. This is the only blog I follow and I am certain I read it here.

            2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

              Yeah. I know that I read somewhere on AAM about someone falling asleep on the first day. Must’ve been in the comments somewhere…

    1. Jamie*

      This is driving me crazy – I read this too…a while ago. Someone fell asleep first day of new job end of day and fired the next day.

      I even looked for the disclaimer that this was a rerun post – I was so sure I had read it here. Weird.

            1. Lily*

              I like her, too, but I consider her the Ask a Manager of personal life, because you have the comments.

          1. Anlyn*

            Weird. The only advice columns I ever read are Carolyn Hax, Ask a Manager, and The Vine. I checked Tomato Nation, and didn’t see it there. Maybe it was one of those that got sent to several advice columnists; I’ve seen that happen a few times.

          2. Ariancita*

            Let’s see, I checked our LinkedIn group to see if it was posted there. Nada. I also sometimes root around in that U.S. News website when there’s a column there. Maybe it was there?

            Jamie: this is driving me crazy too. So kudos to you if you find it.

        1. Anlyn*

          Interesting how our memories can trick us. I was almost certain I read it on Hax’s column. :)

          1. TRB*

            I knew I had seen this and went crazy trying to figure out where when I should have just scrolled down in the comments :)

    2. CoffeeLover*

      Well at the end of all of that, I got some really great blogs to read! Thanks for introducing me to them! :)

  8. Sarah*

    Oh yeah this happens! I think your manager was a bit harsh, personally. I am a firm believer in the second chance. Let someone know what is acceptable and what is not and if they do it again, while informed, then fire them. I haven’t fallen asleep at work, but I have been close to it! Once during a meeting the whole room was incredibly warm and cozy and my managers were talking about stuff that didn’t pertain to me and I had just eaten lunch. I was violently pinching myself and still somewhat dozing. It happens, especially when you haven’t moved around in a while. At your next job, I would advise getting up every 30 minutes to an hour to “use the restroom” or whatever excuse, and walk around a bit. Drink lots of water, and if you feel like you are about to start dozing, concentrate on things you need to do, daydream, just don’t zone out and go to sleep. And don’t feel too bad, it seems like you’re beating yourself up, these things happen, life moves on, MAYBE you’ll find one of those elusive jobs that actually promotes mid day naps for personal well being. If I had my own company that would a clearly defined benefit. Between 1230 and 130 – closed for nap time. (In my defense, whole countries do this in Europe!)

  9. Wilton Businessman*

    “Wake-up call!”
    Ha! You owe me a new keyboard because mine just got a coffee bath.

  10. Joey*

    So Alison,
    Would you hold it against him if you found out the op took your advice then applied to one of the jobs you were hiring for?

      1. Joey*

        See I would have a problem if say the guy states he never got fired then after I hired him mentions in passing he got fired. Or if I asked him to list all jobs then after he’s hired mentions this job. I wouldn’t be okay with an outright lie. If he lies then how do I know he won’t lie later?

        1. nicole*

          Well if he was smart he’d never mention the incident to anyone he worked with. So, why should he list it? Pretty much everyone is going to take a pass on him when seeing he had a job for one day from which he was fired. Most people in the hiring seat won’t be so understanding so it doesn’t make sense for him to list it. He just has to “stick with the lie” so to speak so no one ever finds out. I don’t blame him one bit. I’d leave it off my resume too even though I would feel rather bad for lying but sometimes it’s necessary like in this case.

          1. Joey*

            That’s my point. Everyone’s making it out to be not that big of a deal, but its a huge huge deal. So big a deal in fact that if your boss found out about it youd likely be fired. I just find it a little ironic that a hiring manager is telling someone to lie. It’s a deal breaker for most hiring managers I know. Although I know its the most practical solution.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But if your friend or spouse were asking you this same question, would you really NOT give them what you agree is the most practical solution? My litmus test here is whether it’s the same advice I’d give a good friend — because I think that’s really the advice most people want, not the official thing you’re supposed to say.

              1. Joey*

                Sure I would. But I would have also pointed out the likely consequences if someone were to find out. I know there can be a lot of bleeding heart commentors here and I just think the op needs to understand the potential consequences, however small they are, were it to come out.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Oh, and I agree it’s a huge deal, and it was reasonable to fire her. I just don’t think it has to be something she lets harm her future search.

            3. Sarah*

              I don’t agree with it being a huge huge deal. I’m assuming we’re still talking about dozing and then being dismissed from one days work. Personally, I don’t hold onto things like this that I can never change. It would be ludicrous to mention in an interview because its just an unfortunate incident in the past! I am seeing it as an isolated thing that occurred. Its not the same as say, committing fraud, or having an explosive personality that gets you fired from lots of jobs. Its not an inherent problem. She can just let it go and move on. I also don’t see it as straight up lying at all. Interviewing is like dating, you tell them if they need to know up front (I have AIDS/cancer), but you don’t say, I had a bad case of chlamydia when I was 18 and slept with 3 guys and had to go tell them all at the same time to get tested. You would NEVER have a happy long term relationship and its totally unnecessary if its in the past and has been properly treated =) (Ps, I enjoy outlandish analogies)

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Oh, I didn’t mean having this in her past is a huge deal. I meant it’s a huge deal when it happens on the job … not that it’s a huge deal that must now haunt her forever.

              2. Joey*

                Not lying? You’re kidding right. If I ask you if you’ve ever been fired and you say no when indeed you have that’s a straight up lie. The definition doesnt get any better than that.

                1. Jamie*

                  I agree that it’s not huge deal as it’s a one day one off from her past – but Joey is right…there is no way it’s not lying. It’s lying.

                  It’s lying I’d be totally okay with, personally, and wouldn’t care about in other people…which is why for me it’s not a big deal – but it’s still a lie.

  11. Emma*

    When I interned for two full-time days a week (back in 2009), in addition to my part-time jobs and class schedule at university, I was dog tired all.the.time. Add this to the unstimulating work and dreary, physical environment (gray cubeland for miles with very little natural light and poor lighting) and I would nod. Even at a meeting or two! I was completely motified and tried my best to remain awake by just moving. Typing standing up, wiggling my feet under the table, *something* to keep me focused.

    OP, I’m sorry this situation happened to you on your first day at the job. Beyond Alison’s great advice to get yourself back on the (work)horse, my advice would be to find unobstrusive solutions to preventing yourself falling asleep in the future. Getting a good night’s sleep is seriously key, though, and not bagging on you for your one night of poor sleep.

    Adjusting to full-time work and its sleep requirements is difficult. You might be used to being able to all-night-it at college then wake up fresh as a daisy, and perhaps during your long-term job search you messed up your sleep schedule too (I know I did!). But use this time also to try and practice techniques to not just keep you awake but also get yourself to sleep (if you’re not already). Again, sorry, OP!

    1. Jen in RO*

      I wasn’t exactly a party animal before I got my first 9-6 job, but the first week exhausted me completely. New office, new people, tons of things to learn, plus feeling like the stupidest person in the world made me fall asleep right after I got home. And given that I didn’t have anything to do (I was my own department among people who had no clue what I was supposed to be doing), I will admit that I went to the bathroom sometimes and napped on the toilet for a minute! I almost quit on my first day, it was horrible.

      1. Jen in RO*

        Oh, and I think it’s pretty ridiculous to fire someone for falling asleep in the last 30 minutes of a day on the job. Yes, it’s bad, but I would have given OP a second chance.

  12. EnnVeeEl*

    I almost dozed while my manager was going on and going on my first day on a job out of college. The reason? I was excited and couldn’t sleep that night.

    I feel really bad for the OP – this was a fireable offense?! Sheesh.

    I know it seems like the world ending now, but you will find a new and better job and bounce back from this.

  13. Guera*

    It helps to hear others’ personal stories about being fired at work so I would seek those out. You will feel better in no time.
    Secondly, you have got one fantastic story to tell for years to come.
    Third, this is just a blip on the radar. Don’t put it on your applications or resumes.

  14. Dan*

    I’m just going to touch on the “should you report it on future applications” question.

    IMHO, about the only way somebody would ever find out about your one-day job is if they pull your IRS tax transcripts. Yes, they can go to the feds and ask for them. Have I ever heard of anybody doing that? NO.

    However, if you ever apply for a government security clearance, I *would* list your one day job. For as much as the security folks are interested in what you actually did, they’re more concerned about your character. And not listing a job you’ve been fired from… well, that will count against you big time. BTW, they won’t care about this firing one bit. So admit it to them if you ever fill out clearance paperwork, and nobody else. A one time incident that would be years old at that point is no big deal. But lie about that is a “fresh” concern about your character.

    I realize it’s likely that you will never apply for a job requiring a clearance, but this is useful advice for others in the readership who might and have the same question.

  15. Ask a Manager* Post author

    For the people surprised she got fired over this … I think it’s reasonable that they did. When someone is new on a job, you have very few data points about them, and when something like this happens, it’s looms large in the amount of things you know about them. There’s too much risk that there are going to be further problems and you might decide you don’t want to invest further time in training them, as opposed to cutting your losses and starting fresh with someone new. (Particularly with an entry-level position, where the skills aren’t in-demand ones and she didn’t have a track record you could look at.)

    That doesn’t mean the OP is a horrible employee; it just means it was a reasonable response for the employer to have.

    1. FiveNine*

      After a decade gone, I returned to a company I had worked at for nine years. The company now explicitly states in the employee handbook that you can be fired if you fall asleep at work. I don’t know what happened in the interim (most employees work in the office at their desks, we’re not handling machinery etc.) but there you go.

      1. PEBCAK*

        I feel like people sleep during meetings a lot at companies I’ve worked for. I couldn’t pick out one person as a habitual sleeper, but when we have the type of all-staff meetings that mean sitting and listening for two hours, often you see the “eyes shut and suddenly startle awake” thing.

    2. Corey Feldman*

      I agree with you in theory on firing. But I think at the least an attempt should have made to ask the employee what happened. Not saying it would have changed the outcome. What if he passed out because he was a diabetic in a very new situation. In almost every case I suggest at least a conversation first before the termination.

      1. Joey*

        So you’re saying it depends on how good of an excuse he can come up with? I’d argue if he was diabetic he should warned them that it could happen.

        1. nicole*

          Yes, Joey, there’s this thing called grey area. Seems like you come from a black and white viewpoint but there’s a big difference between a medical issue causing one to fall asleep and someone just not caring much about their job. And being new on a job one might not want to lay out all their personal issues on day one. They might not expect a medical issue to cause a problem.

          1. Ariancita*

            Yes, agreed. Grey area. Plus, as a newly minted grad with his first entry-level job, he’s not going to be savvy about how to handle these situations yet. Not saying he shouldn’t have been fired, but agree there could have been a conversation during the firing.

            1. Joey*

              In every company I’ve ever managed in falling asleep on the job was nearly always the end of your job. Probably the only time anyone’s ever been cut some slack was when they were high performers that were hard to replace.

              1. Corey Feldman*

                With the basic erosion of Employee at Will. The huge revamp of ADA or now ADAAA. The drastic increase in EEO complaints, that cost the employee nothing to file, but typically cost the employer unless you have in house counsel. The 5 minute, what happened here conversation is basic due diligence. Should be apart of most terminations, especially something like this.

                1. Joey*

                  Neither apply if the employer doesnt know there was a disability. Besides, disclosing afterwards still wouldn’t excuse it.

              2. Cat*

                Whereas in my industry, the odd daytime nap at your desk is a standard occurrence after an all-nighter or other intense deadline.

              3. Ariancita*

                Not questioning whether he should have been fired. Am saying that a conversation at the time of firing would have been a good thing.

                1. Beti*

                  Agreed, Ariancita. I work with someone who was diagnosed with diabetes AFTER a few behavioral incidents (I work in a weird place where freaking out doesn’t get you fired). A simple “what happened?” would certainly have been the ethical/practical/polite thing to do, even it isn’t legally required.

                  Personally, I wouldn’t want to work at a place that is so strict that you aren’t given the chance to give your side of the story.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        I agree. Yes, it’s the manager’s prerogative, but I would hate to lose a perfectly good employee because I didn’t bother to have a conversation. Plus the employee may be so mortified that they’ll bend over backwards to make sure they never screw up again. I think you can tell a LOT about how they respond to that conversation – their reaction would determine how I would proceed.

        And I agree that I would want to know if there’s a medical condition at play here. Not everyone would be comfortable bringing that up on Day 1.

        1. KayDay*

          This is along the same lines of what I was thinking. I don’t think that it was unreasonable for the manager to fire the OP over this, but personally, I would have given them a second chance if there had been no other red flags during the course of the day; or at the very least seen how they responded when caught. I definitely agree that most good employees would then bend over backwards to try to make up for it. But that’s just what I would do, and I don’t really hold it against the manager for doing things differently.

    3. Cat*

      This makes sense to me, and I think is also an argument for why he shouldn’t feel bad about not informing other employers about this job. The employer likely didn’t approach the decision to fire him the same way as they would have had he been there six months, and it has less bearing on his general ability to perform.

  16. Rindle*

    I generally agree with what everybody’s been saying. I just wanted to suggest that if you ever apply for something that requires a security clearance or other deep background check, you should be up front about this job. In that case, a lie of omission will be way worse than “this one crazy/stupid thing that happened X years ago.” Also, I’m sorry this happened to you!

    1. Beti*

      Absolutely. I applied to be a police officer many times over the course of a decade and my husband is a background investigator. Trust me when I tell you they will find out every last detail of your life. (They didn’t find anything horrible about me, just for the record, other than bad credit :-) They will talk to your references. And ask them who they should talk with. And ask _those_ people who they should talk with. And with the internet and social media being what it is, for the love of god, be honest!

      IME, if you were honest, you’d likely get a sympathetic “ouch”. If you lied, you’d get a cool “explain this omission” or worse, a form letter saying “you have been removed from the eligibility list”.

  17. FiveNine*

    I went in to take tests for a job interview — about two hours worth of writing tests and of general fill-in-the-blank knowledge tests regarding my field. And circumstances were such that I also hadn’t slept well the night before. I didn’t fall asleep, but even being just two hours it was basically a disaster. I knew I had done fine on the fill-in-the-blanks section. But the timed writing part — it’s embarrassing even thinking about it.

  18. Just a Reader*

    I remember being EXHAUSTED my first job out of college. The commuting, being chained to a desk, etc.

    For the OP, this was mortifying enough that it will never happen again. Best thing to do is try to forget about it and move on.

  19. SC in SC*

    OP – I’m sorry for your situation but you will recover. I had a problem the second day of my first real job that was almost as bad. Fortunately, our HR department found it more funny than an egregious act.

    I had an hour-and-a-half commute to my new job which I started on a Friday before a long weekend. First day, adrenaline pumping I was up with little problem. On Tuesday I wake-up about 15 minutes before I was supposed to be at work! I was mortified to say the least. The only saving grace was that when I called my HR rep (I was still in training and was supposed to meet with her that morning), she asked me if I was still coming in. “Of course, why?”. She then goes on to explain that the same thing happened to her brother and he was so embarrassed that he called the company to inform them that he had a death in the family and could no longer work there due to family commitments.

  20. Lesson to take*

    Apologies if someone else already said this (I didn’t have time to read all the comments yet) but, there is an important lesson to take note here:

    When something bad like this happens, how do you react? From the way the OP described the incident, I don’t think s/he did what could have saved the job in such situations:


    Don’t pretend it never happened (even if you think there’s a chance nobody saw, it’s a huge risk to take). As soon as you wake up and realize what happened, you should acknowledge the incident, show you are mortified, and promise to make sure it won’t happen again (even if you have to get up move from leg to leg, whatever it takes to keep you awake). This will increase your chances of not getting fired exponentially.

    1. Camellia*

      Thanks, this was exactly what I was going to say! What did the OP do when this happened? All it says is that the OP went home at 5:00 as originally specified. How about jumping up, apologizing profusely while explaining, and then staying some extra time?

      Granted the OP is new to the job force and sometimes we just don’t think of these things, so it is an unfortunate learning experience.

      For example, a friend and I were in the restroom at a restaurant at lunchtime and encountered a young woman crying. She had overslept and missed her flight that morning. My friend, who is a frequent traveler, asked her if she had gone to the airport to see what arraignments could be made. She said no. My friend told her you should always do that because they usually try to accommodate the situation.

      In the mean time I am standing there, with my three whole times on an airplane under my belt, thinking that I had no idea that one should do that if one misses one’s flight. It probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to go to the airport two hours late either.

      So, as they say, live and learn.

  21. Dave*

    To add on to the great advice, I cannot stress enough:

    If you have been jobless for awhile, WEEKS before you think you may be “on the job”, get your body into a proper sleep schedule around when you’ll be working. A good sleep schedule is often the difference between not just staying awake on the job, but how well you do on the job too.

    Go to bed at the same time, and wake up at the same time, every day. Never take more than 1 nap a day at midday, and never for more than 20 minutes. Your work life will thank you, and I’d venture to guess that your mood and family/friends will see the difference too.

    1. EnnVeeEl*

      This is more excellent advice. I think especially if you are jobless as the result of a layoff or firing. These are traumatic situations. Depression sneaks up on people and it could manifest itself in getting TOO MUCH sleep or not enough – and then when you land a job, your body is completely out of whack.

      I made sure to keep on a regular sleep schedule when I was laid off and I NEVER got into the habit of midday naps.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I have to say, the occasional mid-day nap is one of the great pleasures of my current work schedule.

        In fact, I got up early today for an electrician and I’m contemplating a mid-day nap right now.

        But I agree with you.

        1. EnnVeeEl*

          I think Siesta is awesome if you have a job that allows it. :-) But in my case I had a toddler at home and was expected to be Looking For Work when I wasn’t caring for her. A midday nap would have been frowned upon.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            (To be clear, I work from home and for myself; there’s no boss but me. Definitely not recommending it otherwise, and didn’t want to be misinterpeted by anyone who doesn’t know that about me!)

            1. EnnVeeEl*

              Oh I know – I’m just saying my husband wouldn’t have liked four hour midday naps while I was at home. LOL

        2. Meg*

          I often take naps in my boss’s office when he goes out to lunch or to a meeting. Usually 15-30 minutes, no more than that. Seems fairly typical for my other team members to use his office for napping or yoga, even.

            1. Meg*

              My immediate supervisor suggested it one day, and my boss (my supervisor’s immediate supervisor) tells this funny story about how my coworker will do yoga in a corner of the office (it’s a large office) while my boss is working. It has been my understanding that as long as it’s not an all day thing (as in 15-30 minutes is fine), our regular motto applies: Not a Single F!#k Is Given.

              He actually told me the yoga story when I asked him his opinion on where the best place to catch a 15-minute cat nap is, and he suggested his office too.

              1. Jamie*

                Just out of curiosity, how do you wake up? Do you set an alarm on your phone.

                On rare occasions on weekends or days off I can take a 10-20 minute nap and wake up refreshed…but much more often I need a couple of hours or it would be worse than no sleep at all.

                Oh, speaking of sleep…last time we had a thread about sleep here a lot of commenters recommended keeping the same sleep schedule on weekends as during the week. I’ve done that and while I miss my Sunday naps it makes a HUGE difference…so thanks for that advice.

                1. fposte*

                  After seeing some nap research that suggested it, I’ve tried limiting my naps to 10-20 minutes, and it really is less disruptive overall.

                2. Omne*

                  I usually close my door, hit the lights and start an album on my MP3 player. I doze after 5 minutes or so and I’ve become conditioned to waking up when the music stops after 45 minutes or so. Not recommended for multiple disc compilations…..

        3. Greg*

          The irony is that most productivity experts would agree that a mid-day nap would actually be a good thing for companies to encourage: (http://www.inc.com/articles/201108/sleeping-on-the-job-should-your-employees-take-naps.html) Instead, it’s a fireable offense.

          For the record, I probably would have let the OP off with a warning. Among other reasons, firing people (and restarting the hiring process) is a pain in the butt, so if I thought the relationship could be salvaged, I would have made the effort. I also think that, absent a pretty blatant violation (I’m talking 10 Commandments-level stuff) it’s dumb to fire people without explanation. You’re ruining their life; the least you could do is offer them something constructive on their way out the door.

  22. Allison*

    I take it this is why my company starts people off with an abbreviated schedule – they had us come in a little later and leave a little earlier than usual, probably so we could ease ourselves into the idea of working, since this is almost everyone’s first job out of college. More companies should do this.

    1. KnowBody*

      I’m surprised! My college schedule was grueling, I thought my first job was so much easier than college life. (Okay, actually 4 part-time jobs since the economy was so bad — couldn’t find a job in my field)
      I guess I am slow learner, I had to study a LOT.

      1. Allison*

        Well I didn’t start this right out of college, this was after months of only needing to get up early for an internship twice a week, and lots of sleeping in and taking afternoon naps on days I wasn’t working.

        Even then, college was way more laid back when it came to sleeping. If I really couldn’t get out of bed I could usually blow off class and just e-mail the professor saying I was sick – not that I did it often, but showing up for class wasn’t nearly as necessary as showing up for work. And classes typically started mid morning anyway. Also, my college schedule allowed for me to take naps in the mid to late afternoon. I did work a job as an overnight security proctor though, and there I only fell asleep once, and it was while on break. Still got in trouble, but didn’t get fired.

        1. KnowBody*

          With a hard sciences major, I had class and labs 8 hrs a day starting at 8 am until usually 5 or 6. Then, study until midnight. I took Friday nights off. So yeah, comparatively, the modern workplace is easy peasy. ;)

    2. KayDay*

      I’m a bit surprised more companies don’t do this, as it’s often easier for the supervisor. I did have one (part time) job in college have me come in an hour later than normal my first day. The two times I have trained new employees, I have always had to get to work early because (a) I needed to check my emails and do various little daily tasks before I could train them AND (b) because new people usually show up like 15 minutes early…and they don’t have keys yet! It would be so much easier for me, as the trainer, to show up on time and have the new person come in later.

  23. KellyK*

    I agree with all of the comments that it says nothing about your value as a person or an employee, your work ethic, or anything else. You dozed off because you didn’t sleep the night before. I can understand why they fired you, but that was a decision from the perspective of someone who hasn’t worked with you yet, and who still has a lot to invest in training you before you’re useful to them. Had the same thing happened when you’d been there a little longer, it probably wouldn’t have been an instant firing.

    Even assuming that it was a one-off thing and that you don’t have some underlying sleep disorder, it might be worthwhile to try to figure out how to make sure you get a good night’s sleep before the first day of your next job (watching your caffeine and all that other sleep hygiene stuff).

    If you’re really wound up about the job and just cannot sleep, an over-the-counter sleep aid might not be a bad idea either, but I wouldn’t want the night before a new job to be my first time taking something like that–sometimes people are affected really strongly and sleep right through their alarm clock.

    If nothing else, having a plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again might help you stop feeling so discouraged.

  24. PPK*

    First days are exhausting! I think first days shouldn’t be a full day, but I’m sure that’s not going to happen most places.

    I would chalk it up to that they had a bad experience with someone and were gun shy about you falling asleep on the first day (versus seeing how you worked out over a week). It’s not like people don’t doze off at work (well, office-y work where no one dies if you shut your eyes for a bit) — I’ve dozed in the meetings (must…keep…eyes…open…) and watched others do the same. The difference is that when you’ve been at work awhile, you can establish a pattern of behavior. One afternoon of droopy eyes is no longer a “OMG! Fire them!” offense (or at least not where I work).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Whoa! Really? I actually do not think that’s normal or acceptable at most places; I would be shocked if I found someone sleeping on the job. If it was an otherwise good employee, I would let it go, but I’d make it really clear it wasn’t okay to do.

    2. Jamie*

      What? Where? I have never, ever known anyone to fall asleep at work.

      Not trying to make the OP feel bad, and I agree it’s one day so leave it off apps and it never happened…but to put this in the category of normal workplace occurrences is bizarre to me.

      This would be a fire able offense in any workplace IME.

      1. A Bug!*

        Yeah, droopy eyes is one thing, but dozing off in meetings is a concern. That the company doesn’t mind it makes me question whether or not the meetings themselves are a waste of time, because the only reason I can think of that I wouldn’t care if someone fell asleep in a meeting is that if the person nodding off didn’t strictly need to be there.

        khilde also brings up group training, and in my view that would be a different sort of circumstance. If everyone in the training class is stuck learning the material at the same rate, you’re bound to have people who pick it up faster than others and are left under-stimulated. That’s a recipe for a bored trainee and I think I’d absolutely look the other way if a trainee dozed off if I was satisfied the trainee had a solid grip on the material and the trainee was otherwise respectful. (I’d also privately suggest the trainee sit at the back to minimize the visibility to the other trainees, but in my experience nappers usually do this anyway.)

    3. khilde*

      It may not be exactly the same, but I see people fall asleep in training all the time. I do understand that just sitting and largely listening/concentrating is hard to do for people that are used to moving or at least engaging their brain in ongoing work. I do my best to not straight lecture – lots of discussion, questions, breaks and my charming personality help keep people awake :). I am lucky to have really good sleep habits so I am generally alert during the day….it always makes me curious how much sleep people are really getting.

      I don’t point out the sleepers or wake them up or make fun of them. I’m not their mother and I figure it’s their loss (though I do have compassion for how hard it is to just sit for hours on end) Plenty of others that I can focus on that do manage to stay awake.

      1. khilde*

        Oh yes, and I fully recognize that this sounds like I’m a sucky trainer that can’t keep their attention. Perhaps for some I’m not their cup of tea. But the #1 type of feedback I get from people is “Wow! You’re really…..energetic.” So I know I am not Ferris Bueller’s teacher at least. I just really think some people don’t get enough sleep and that biological urge trumps all else when they are required to sit still.

        1. Joey*

          Sleeping? And you have no issue with that? You know you’re the defacto supervisor while you’re training right? And is your company okay with paying people to miss work to sleep?

          1. khilde*

            Well, I have actually never thought of it that way (being the defacto supervisor when they’re in training). So that’s an interesting perspective that will stick with me. Though no, I’m not a supervisor of anyone in my position now and I don’t feel like I’m an employee’s supervisor when they’re in training. I probably won’t start acting like one. I don’t know though, Joey, that I will be able to clearly articulate to you why I feel that way. You’re much more to the point than I am! But I’ll try.

            So as far as being ok with it; no, I’m not ok with it in the sense that I think they’re lame that they can’t stay awake and function for those several hours we’re together. I don’t take personal offense to it, though. I’m not exactly sure what I should do when people do nod off (which honestly doesn’t happen a lot; just that I’ve seen it happen over the years). Shaming, belittling, reprimanding, etc. would only serve to shut people down. I guarantee it (see my next point).

            My overall philosophy of being a facilitator in a training environment is to treat adults like adults. Ultimately, my goal is to get people to feel comfortable enough (i.e. non threatened) to open up to have productive and open discussion around the concepts. I can’t even tell you how often people will walk into a class and start making nervous jokes to me about sitting in the back row because they don’t want to get picked on. Or how they need to hide out so they aren’t called out by me. I really think previous learning experiences where teachers take that approach have screwed people up. They already walk into my room feeling threatened! Also, I don’t teach technical skills and the nature of the classes I teach don’t require testing, proof of hard skills, etc. If I were in a training position where participants had to have concrete deliverables on the other end, then yes, I probably would be more adamant about some things in the classroom.

            Again, it’s my personal philosophy, but I do not believe in a hard-ass training environment. I’ve seen them; I’ve been part of them; and they don’t get the results that I’m looking for with my participants. Plus, that’s just not my style so if I tried to force all these rules like people are back in grade school…..it would be disastorous for me. There are some trainers that can do that with success, however.

            I don’t go through the typical ground rules you see in most classes where instructors remind the adult learners to turn off cell phones, etc–and I’ve never had major problems with it. Sometimes cell phone goes off, but I let the embarassment of them fumbling through their bags make the point. Most of my participants are professional enough to step out to take a call –I don’t care. I realize business still goes on outside of my classroom. I truly do not have problems with that kind of behavior in my sessions and I do believe it’s because I treat them like professional adults.

            I think you and I probably have very different styles and philosophies around this issue, but thanks for challenging me today. It does help for me to reinforce my own values on my craft every now and again!

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Sometimes your responses are so beautifully diplomatic that they are a pleasure to read, and they’re such a model for others (myself included) about how to have a different viewpoint politely and pleasantly! So thank you for that.

              Would one option be to wait for a break and then discreetly say something to the person like, “Hey, I noticed you were having some trouble staying awake; are you feeling well enough to be here?”

              1. khilde*

                Oh my goodness – that’s like the highest honor I could imagine receiving here! Thanks – I really strive for that kind of balance (and it’s so affirming to know that I am, in fact, practicing what I preach to my participants in training!).

              2. khilde*

                Oh, I so was twitterpated by your first para that I skipped the second. :) Yes, I think that’s a great way to handle it. Thanks for the words to use.

                As I think about Joey’s question and my response some more, I do think maybe my reasoning for not getting into anyone’s face in training is because I hate the potential conflict (which is why I’m not a good manager and shouldn’t be one. I’m suited to my current role). But I have always found great success with approaching people from a point of concern rather than accusation – which is what you often advocate. So, thanks, I’ll stick that in my arsenal to use.

                1. Joey*

                  I don’t think its necessary to get in anyone’s face, but I do think when you’re being paid to take a training course there have to be some expectations. Maybe that’s a small test at the end of the class. Maybe its a comment during the break as Alison suggests. If people are falling asleep all the time they aren’t bringing anything of value back to their job. When that happens your classes, and by default you, become a less effective trainer.

                2. khilde*

                  Joey – I totally agree with you on this! And I’m very sensitive to the fact that I want to make it worth people’s time to come and ultimately to help them back on the job. So we’re totally on the same page there.

                  I do make dramatic statements and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve made someone conclude something I didn’t mean (like when people say “She was yelling at me on the phone!” I’ve seen that discussion take place here before). So I didn’t really mean “get in their face” literally, good point. Also, I may have made it sound in my original comment that people are falling asleep a lot (because yes, I’d definitely be looking to me as the first reason they are sleeping!!). I have noticed, though, that it’s largely environmental = right after lunch (which is why I break after only 45 min or so) and when the room temp is too warm.

                  I’ll totally use Alison’s advice to ask them on break, but I’m also curious about your suggestion for the small test at the end of class. Can you give me more info on what you mean? I would guess it’s like a little quiz/review of what we talked about? I’m always looking for ideas. Sometimes I get so set in the ways that work that it’s hard to think of new things to try.

                3. Joey*

                  Yes, depending on your style or situation, a small test, required participation like role playing or completion of in class assignments to pass the class.

            2. Jamie*

              To be fair – I’ve had independent trainers in for various things and if someone had fallen asleep in class I’d have dealt with that – because if I wasn’t in the room I’d expect an attending manager to let me know. And then that would be a conversation between me and their supervisor and the employee about what was going on and whether they would continue training.

              I guess my point is I wouldn’t expect the external trainer to deal with the sleeping employee (but I would expect to be told at first break) but it would be dealt with in house – definitely.

              1. khilde*

                And that’s why you’re such a great manager, Jamie. A manager’s engagement back on the job is so key to transfer of training – in my experience that’s been rare in my organization. I do attribute that, though, to size of my organization and the fact that we’re public sector, however. Also the nature of how we’re structured and the type of training we provide to a smattering of different governmental agencies. I’ve observed that we’re really odd in how we’re set up around here. But yes, if I had managers approach me to ask how their employees fared in training? Knock me over with a feather.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      I’m having a hard time with Jamie & AAM’s shock about this!

      When I said above I have fallen asleep in meetings, I mean like the 30 second eyelid battle where you doze off/wake up, doze off/wake up, not that I’m sawing logs in a meeting. I don’t doze off at my desk while working, either. But, I see people out for several minutes in meetings regularly. Years back, we had a weekly project meeting where one senior person would sleep through the whole thing every week. I’ve also known people who intentionally napped at their desks during their lunch breaks.

      Now. . .my husband once had a coworker who was a weekend maintenance guy and would go up to a hidden place and sleep for hours every shift. Obviously that’s no good, but inadvertant dozing off can happen to anyone (I thought).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Wow. I’ve seriously never worked anywhere or heard of anywhere where that wouldn’t be a big deal.

        (And I’ve got to say — a workplace where someone slept through a meeting every week? I’m thinking that’s not a great culture. That sounds like a huge issue to me.)

        1. PEBCAK*

          I don’t think it’s acceptable if it’s a habit, but if you have an employee who is otherwise on the ball and things are good, and you see her nod off and then snap awake in a meeting, what would you really infer from that? Odds are, she is just having a bad day/had a bad night, and knows that sleeping is not okay, but for whatever reason, can’t quite prevent it at that moment.

          Obviously, if it were happening often, it would need to be addressed, but a once-in-a-while involuntary reaction? To me, that’s not that different from excusing yourself in the middle of a meeting because you really have to pee. Sure, you should have planned ahead and peed earlier, but sometimes it just happens.

        2. Anonymous*

          I once had a coworker who crawled under her desk to take a nap.

          The ONLY reason she wasn’t fired for it was because she was on break. She was told she had to go somewhere else (her car, one of the breakrooms) if she wanted to nap on her breaks though.

          But yeah…Crawled under her desk and went to sleep.

      2. Jamie*

        This is so foreign to me and tbh if I were conducting a meeting and someone fell asleep my immediate reaction would be concern and to wake them up – because I would assume something was medically amiss with them.

        No way would I carry on with a meeting while anyone was sleeping – I personally don’t invite people to meetings who don’t need to be there so sleeping kind of defeats the purpose of their presence.

        Different cultures, I guess. I would not be comfortable in a work place where this wasn’t cause for serious concern.

        1. Rose*

          Agreed. I’m shocked that even “dozing” would be acceptable anywhere, but I’ve personally worked at start-ups where the energy and engagement level might be higher than other places.

    5. Sarah*

      There’s this woman in her forties who works in the office with us and she used to fall asleep at her desk ALL the time. We didn’t go tattle on her since we’re all adults and no one is anyone’s superior. But one day our office manager came in and saw her dozing and didn’t say anything then and there, but that was over a month ago and she hasn’t gotten close to nodding off since then, so I’m guessing they had a chat. But they are still friendly from appearances and she still works here, soooo not a huge deal (I work for a mid sized law firm). I was hugely annoyed with her and incredulous that she was sleeping at her desk though, I will admit. But it became much more annoying because it was pretty frequently occurring.

    6. Liz in the City*

      At OldJob, one guy fell asleep (and snored!) during a presentation where the CEO was sitting right behind him. Somehow, he continued to work there after that incident (his excuse: he had a cold that week and the medication made him sleepy in the dark room). And after we merged with another company and had a round of layoffs, they kept this one guy on the job who would nap. every. day–as in leaning back in his chair, arms folded, snoring. It became the office joke. Just one of the many (many) reason why I made poorly managed OldJob my old job.

  25. Erik*

    OP, just move on and don’t take it personally. It’s not a bad reflection on you.

    I would think that management could’ve handled it a bit more gracefully. Couldn’t the manager simply had a small talk about your situation? If you haven’t had a full 8 hour work day in a while (if ever if you’re a new college grad) then it can definitely be a challenge.

    We all get those “first day jitters”, either through excitement, worries about doing a good job, or whatever. It’s always tough on the first day, even at dream jobs, and having a good talk about your situation with your manager probably would’ve been more appropriate there.

    BTW, I have seen other people fired for sleeping on the job at previous companies, but these tended to be more from a productivity standpoint and were part-time temp staff doing boring, monotonous work.

    1. Joey*

      C’mon, don’t surgarcoat it, its definitely a poor reflection otherwise he could leave it on his résumé. It’s not the end of the world or anything, but it definitely is bad.

          1. Rose*

            I’m 100% with Joey. Falling asleep for any reason other than a medical one is completely unacceptable on your first day. An employee that is truly committed would have found a way to stay awake for eight hours in a row.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I knew it! For some reason I pictured you as Gen X too (maybe you’ve mentioned it before). Basically I imagine you as the male version of me, but slightly more of a hard-ass.

                2. Jamie*

                  Wow – I had a totally male vibe here, too – although that may just be because I have a son named Joey so that’s my default.

                  Never once occurred to me that Joey was female. So like Alison said…who’s right? :)

      1. Jamie*

        I don’t think there is ever an instance where you’d leave a one day job on a resume – regardless of why you left.

        Unless you saved their warehouse full of puppies from a fire there aren’t a whole lot of achievements accomplished day 1.

  26. LisaD*

    I feel so badly for poor OP here!

    As a person with volatile blood sugar, just want to throw it out there that any episode of falling asleep unexpectedly is a good reason to visit your doctor. If there IS something going on besides just a sleepless night and serious case of nervousness, the next time you fall asleep unexpectedly could be behind the wheel of your car. I had a phase of my life where I was working, extensively freelancing, AND a full-time student (plus multiple high-time investment hobbies) and assumed my sleepiness was just exhaustion — nope, I also have blood sugar funkiness that compounds it (which explains why dosing up on caffeine never helped at all!) and now I don’t get behind the wheel of my car without stopping to review how I’ve been eating and considering having a snack and waiting a few minutes for it to hit my bloodstream before driving.

    1. Ali_R*

      It is not at all surprising the number of people sleeping during the day. I am no longer able to work… even from home anymore due to the inability to predict if I am going to have days I need 14-18 hours of sleep and how many days/weeks that will last.

      If you’ve fallen asleep at work definitely check out medical issues. Even if it is something like lupus or fibro a script of Ritalin or Provigil can save your career a few more years. It isn’t just for narcolepsy anymore. This is definitely not the same as blood sugar issues! That is way more dangerous to ignore and bull through.

      So your coworkers that are crawling under their desks, that is something I’ve actually seen recommended in breast cancer forums, lupus forums, etc. (not everyone one chemo loses their hair, either.) Always thought it was an odd suggestion and figured people must be doing this in offices vs. cubicles. Again, it falls back on that, you don’t know what they’re going through to keep that job, it might be their lifeline to medical or ??? Hopefully they’ve been upfront with HR or their manager.

      I don’t think the OP has a medical issue but if it she notices overwhelming drowsiness again, definitely a call in to their medical provider might be in order. I just think it was first day nerves and the manager was a bit knee jerk to not have a discussion first!

  27. Another regular reader going anonymous*

    I’m more than a little curious about what Alison said in her response:

    “You don’t sound like someone who needs to be lectured or shamed about it. ”

    What is the point of shaming anyone? Or lecturing them? To me, “lecture” sounds like “droning on and on to someone that isn’t interested and is not listening” and shaming, well, creating a sense of shame in someone doesn’t help anyone except for the one doing the shaming—and most likely just pumping up the shamer’s sense of self-righteousness.

    I’m hoping this is just a matter of semantics or poor word choice, because I think that intentionally causing pain and humiliation is really twisted; shaming someone is really despicable, but I’ve noticed similar word choices in other blog posts here, both by A and other commenters. Maybe this explains the difference between instilling guilt over shame:


    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is a situation where some people would shame her, and I wanted to head that off in the comments.

      I agree shame isn’t generally useful, but lectures? Some people do need to hear that their behavior was wrong-headed, thoughtless, ill-conceived, insulting, or whatever the case may be. And some people need to hear a detailed explanation of why in order to understand. That’s not the case here. But certainly sometimes that type of message is an appropriate response. (But then I don’t define lecture the way you do, so that might be the reason.)

      By the way, you guys don’t need to go anonymous to disagree with me. (And most people are anonymous even if they’re using a user name, for that matter.)

      1. nyxalinth*

        I call lecturing Mojo Jojoing, after the villain on the Powerpuff Girls cartoon who would repeat, reiterate, and otherwise hold forth at length on a topic, beating a dead horse right into the ground. I only need to be told “Please don’t fall asleep here at work; it isn’t professional.”. Lecturing to me, is something like this:

        “Don’t fall asleep at work, it isn’t professional, and you will get fired. You will get fired if you fall asleep at work, because it isn’t professional. One must always be professional, and that means not falling asleep at work. did I already tell you to not fall asleep at work? You shouldn’t, because it isn’t professional.” Repeat for 10-30 minutes.

        1. Kelly L.*

          It always makes me think of Office Space, too, and the endless lecturing about the TPS reports.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      I think it’s the difference between “my daughter lost a kid she was caring for and I can’t believe they fired her!” versus “OMG I screwed up so bad and I don’t know how to overcome this.” Some people do need to be told they screwed up, because they really don’t get it.

      1. fposte*

        And even in that one the mom came back and gave a little more perspective on her position.

  28. Katie the Fed*

    One of the best employees I ever had fell asleep his first day. He was stressed and nervous the night before, and fell asleep that day. I asked him the next day if everything was alright, and told him that he needed to make sure he was getting enough sleep at home because we can’t allow that in the workplace. He was super apologetic and bent over backwards to make sure it never happened again. He was also my hardest worker, and absolutely brilliant. He’s moved on since then, but we were sorry to see him go.

    I think it’s silly that a company would go through all this trouble to interview and hire and not allow just one mistake on the employee’s first day. Mistakes happen. They may have let a great employee slip through the cracks.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      They may have — but from their perspective, they may have also saved themselves several weeks or more of training someone who ultimately they wouldn’t want to retain. I’m not saying that was the case — but when this happens on someone’s first day, I can see just cutting your losses at that point. I can also see cases where I wouldn’t — but with an entry-level employee, I probably would.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        But in a cost/benefit analysis, I can’t imagine the savings in cost for waiting another week really offsets the savings in just firing the person immediately and re-hiring for the position.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I wouldn’t necessarily want to spend a week of my time doing intensive training of someone when I was skeptical that it was going to work out. Training is a huge commitment in many cases.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            Hmm yeah. But I think I’d know everything I needed to know after a conversation about it with her. You can tell a lot about how people respond in a situation like that.

          2. KayDay*

            I’ve never worked anywhere where more than a day was spent training entry level people =\

            1. nyxalinth*

              Customer service call centers–when they do it right, instead of one week then throw you to the wolves–will often have training classes lasting two or more weeks before people are ever allowed on the phones.

            2. Jamie*

              Even for entry level reception basic tasks like training on the ERP and some legacy apps will take more than one day. Throw in procedures – I can’t imagine training anyone fully in one day in our environment. And if there are a lot of other good candidates I can see cutting bait rather quickly before investing.

            3. Lexy*

              Awful! I went through two weeks of out of town training before I even entered our office here (accounting firm) and then two more weeks before I was on a client! And then the whole rest of teh year before I had the slightest clue what I was doing (okay… I exaggerate… but only slightly!)

          3. Leslie Yep*

            I’m thinking about a pattern of evidence here, though and assuming a good interview process that convinced the interviewer/HM that this candidate likely had the skills/experience necessary to succeed at this job, I don’t think this is the choice I’d make. Unless of course there were other flags in the first days. Completely acknowledge the limited data points issue, and thus the need to make a great first impression, but it’s not like the OP grabbed a blankie and laid down on the floor for a snooze, right?

            I’m thinking of a parallel, say maybe vomiting on your first day in the presence of your manager (or on your manager, blech). Both are physiological processes that are somewhat out of your control. I would never consider firing someone for vomiting. Am I missing what suggests that this instance of falling asleep is evidence of lack of likelihood to succeed? It is an issue of, if it happened once you have to assume it will happen again?

            1. Joey*

              Think about it this way. Would you still be confident that the so called best candidate out of probably hundreds of applicants was still the best candidate after he fell asleep on his first day on the job?

              1. Leslie Yep*

                It’s a situation where I personally would cut a lot of slack (situation dependent, no one in danger, etc…), though it’s obvious that many others of you would not! Assuming that this was indeed a candidate I thought would do very well, whose references were strong, that they had otherwise been attentive, thoughtful, demonstrating the skills I expected to see, and that their behavior otherwise suggested that they were conscientious, I can’t see myself firing him. It’s my impression that that was the situation here, more or less.

                On the other hand, if this was someone with, say, some really sparkling aspect to his candidacy that I had thought outweighed some other flag(s), I’d be more likely to lean toward firing.

                Definitely see the point about not wanting to waste a week of my labor on training someone who may not work out, but also don’t want to have to spend another chunk of time hiring and prepping for a new candidate when, in my opinion, the most likely situation is that the guy I’ve got actually just as good as I thought he was, but having a pretty crappy moment.

            2. fposte*

              It’s not what sleep is, it’s what it could be. Nobody regularly vomits on the job when they’re not supposed to. People do, with unfortunate frequency, choose to sleep on the job when they’re not supposed to.

              1. Jamie*

                I actually had one of those once. I’ve since learned that daily stress vomiting means you should have resigned sooner.

        2. Amanda*

          And also, it’s unlikely that the other finalists in the running for the job would’ve moved on already. In this market, an employer that fires an employee the first day on the job, probably won’t have to go through all the motions of advertising the position, interviewing, etc. again. Just call the second choice up and there you go. Buyer’s market.

  29. mas*

    I feel for you – I too get overexcited/can’t sleep the night before exciting events like the first day on a job, the day we took the SATs, a morning job interview, etc. I don’t normally drink coffee, but after a few really tough mornings I make sure I make time to pound some caffeine when I get out of bed because I know I will be tired. I suspect this is why so many people are addicted to coffee!

  30. Brandy*

    Hind sight is 20/20 and all that…BUT if anyone reading this finds themselves in a similar situation– I’d suggest being up front with your boss. OP says s/he was up all night and struggled all day. As a manager, I’d have a LOT more bandwidth for someone that came in, asked where the closest coffee machine was, and explained that they had an uncharastically sleepless night but were excited to get going on the job!

    Then, if OP fell asleep in front of me, I’d be annoyed, but I’d know that it was because of the aforementioned lack of sleep. THEN I’d want OP to say something after the incident- like before going home, like “hey, I’m sure you noticed I dozed off there at the 4pm meeting- this will NEVER happen again, and, as you can imagine, I’m mortified. I hope I can prove to you in coming weeks that this is an isolated incident.” I’d have given OP another chance, but not tolerated a second incident.

    1. Marina*

      This. I think how you handle an incident like this is at least as important, if not more important, than what happens in the first place. It shows the difference between a one time mistake that will never happen again, and a pattern of behavior based on personality.

    2. Lily*

      Absolutely! Both being clueless or pretending that it was no big deal compound the problem.

    3. fposte*

      Yeah, I’m not quite clear what happened between 4 and 5. She fell asleep but didn’t know it? She fell asleep but hoped nobody noticed but they did? I think the firing might have been more for sleeping and not immediately apologizing–thereby making it look like she thought it was okay and it was going to be a regular thing–than for just sleeping.

  31. S*

    This is a comment for the OP: I agree with commenters above who suggest that you get checked out by a doctor for any underlying issues, including sleep apnea and narcolepsy. Also, certain medications can cause almost uncontrollable drowsiness, both over the counter and prescription, and you should look into that if you’re on any sort of medication and if you haven’t already.

    As a former college instructor, one semester I had a student who fell asleep in my class almost every day (!), and then a few here and there who in individual instances couldn’t keep their eyes open. I didn’t hold it against the students for whom that was a first-time or even a second-time “offense,” and, while I was not their employer so this is not utterly on point, I don’t think you should continue to beat yourself up about this incident, especially if it is harming your self-confidence. I did, however, hold it against the student who kept falling asleep, especially since he would inexplicably sit in the front row! But that is neither here nor there.

    My point is, figure out what caused it, based on all the circumstances and the details of the context that only you can know. And create a plan so that it doesn’t happen again – routine sleep schedule leading up to the job, coffee (coffeecoffee), getting up to use the bathroom or get water, etc., all help. I imagine you feel powerless right now, so figuring out exactly what caused it and formulating an action plan to prevent it from happening again will make you feel better.

  32. Amanda*

    My heart goes out to you OP.

    I’ve never lost a job (aside from a temp assignment) but I’ve been job-searching for over a year with little response and I certainly understand the blow to self-confidence and the fear of never being employed again. And while I don’t have a large incident like this in my past, I do torture myself daily about missteps (real or perceived) that I’ve made over the years that have led me to this point.

    The good news for you as that it’s probably going to be easier to recover from this before you’ve truly begun your career than if it happened mid-career. The unemployment gap can be explained with “I’m a new grad in a horrible economy.”

    And as you see from this post, the shift from college or unemployed life to full-time employment knocks a lot of people on their back . I also found it difficult to stay awake in my first post-college job and while I stayed awake, I probably wasn’t performing great and all the coffee I had to chug gave me constant nausea (I hate and despise coffee).

    Do you volunteer anywhere? Volunteering definitely adds something to my resume, gives me something to do and feeling valued by an organization and it’s clients keeps my spirits up. I think volunteering might be something you could really benefit from.

    I’m sorry you are struggling and I wish you the best of luck.

  33. OP Here*

    Well this has garnered a ton of responses so far…

    I appreciate all the advice from AAM (thank you), as well as all the readers. I’ll keep checking in and seeing what comes up, as it’s all helpful/constructive/etc. I think Alison’s advice was definitely helpful, as I needed a little reassurance and guidance with this.

    As most of you have been saying, it was just a thing that happened and I need to put it behind me and move on. I guess I just wanted some advice on how to approach this in future interviews or situations where it may come up, because it has come up, and it’s definitely not something fun to talk about.

    Also, as a lot of you have mentioned maybe a sleep disorder or something…who knows? I’ve found that I do have trouble sleeping sometimes, but I wouldn’t say it’s abnormal. I think I may look into ways to develop better sleep habits and routines throughout the day and see if I notice a change. If not, a possible medical condition could be afoot, but I won’t focus on that too much.

    Lastly, for those of you saying this sounds familiar, I think a while back Alison had a post about the most embarrassing thing to ever happen to you while at work, or something along those lines, and I think I posted about this situation there. So you’re not crazy!!! And it may very well be somewhere else that someone else posted something similar, as seen with these comments, I’m obviously not alone in this awful mistake, which is kind of comforting really.

    Thanks again for all the advice and comments, and I’ll definitely keep checking in and definitely keep moving forward in my job search.

    1. Anonymous*

      This nearly happened to me on the first few days of work after college (I took regular naps in college so it wasn’t as obvious before). I never actually dozed off, but my mind was so foggy, I was having trouble following the conversations I was trying to learn from and my eyelids were incredibly heavy. When that didn’t go away after a few weeks (and there were some smaller, other symptoms), I went to my doctor and I was diagnosed as hypothyroid. It causes a brain “fog” which to me, makes everyone sound like an adult in Peanuts and puts me to sleep.

      Just some commiserating and something else you might want to google to see if you have any other symptoms. :) I feel like a real human being now that I’ve got it under control.

      1. TL*

        That’s almost exactly what happened to me! I didn’t get foggy-headed, but I had absolutely no energy (and normally I’m pretty darn peppy) and was always, always tired and falling asleep in dark lecture halls.
        Then I passed out while driving, the doctor put me on meds, and I’m back to my normal energetic self, even on 5 hrs of sleep.

    2. EK*

      As someone who falls somewhere on the spectrum between “normal sleep” and “sleep disorder” – I’ve found an iPhone app called “Sleep Cycle” that I’m completely in love with (might be other smartphone versions too? not sure). You place it on your bed while you sleep and it tracks your movements to figure out how you’re sleeping, and you give it a 30-minute window when you want to wake up – it picks the time when it thinks you’re sleeping the lightest. Might just be my mild obsession with data, but I swear it also helps me to wake up feeling less groggy, and it allows you to see patterns that affect your sleep (ate late, drank coffee, etc.). Might be worth a try as a cheap way to feel better.

      1. Leslie Yep*

        I have also used Sleep Cycle and love it because it makes all kinds of fancy graphs for you — and it’s customizable, so if you have some factor in your life that you think might be causing you sleep trouble (for me it’s right-before-bed screen time), you can track that against your time and quality of sleep.

        I didn’t feel like it helped me to wake up better, but it definitely has helped me to identify some of the factors that lead to me getting good or bad quality/quantity sleep, especially used in conjunction with a food tracker.

      2. Meghan*

        It’s true that you do feel better when you wake up in the lightest part of your sleep cycle. I know a couple of people in investment banking and one who is an auditor for one of the big 4 and they’ve mastered sleep cycles so they feel completely rested on 3-4 hours of sleep.

  34. Alicia*

    I work in an academic setting, and as summer started up, we always got a swarm of undergrad summer students to our research group. When I was a graduate student (not responsible for hiring) there was a kid that was brought on, straight out of first year, and I was the middle-(wo)man between him and my supervisor. He fell asleep multiple times on the job that first day. We didn’t tell our PI because we wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt seeing as this was his first job pretty much, and come on, the first day (weeks) involve way too much literature. Next day… same thing. I spoke to him after that. Still kept happening. So after the third time I told my supervisor and she spoke to him. It just never stopped even after THE BOSS spoke to him. It got so bad that when we were in meetings he had to stand up otherwise he’d get drowsy.

    Oh, and he couldn’t really be fired because he brought his own paycheque to the group (government funded scholarship) and if he left we didn’t have the funding to pay for a replacement.

  35. WFBP*

    This would happen to me on my first job. Long, boring meetings where I would droop – I tried pinching myself, excusing myself for the restroom and doing a fast walk around the hallways – nothing seemed to work!

    It was embarrassing – especially when I realized people noticed (including a VP!!)! I didn’t understand what was going on, until I discovered my eating habits were causing this. Because I had such a hard time getting up in the mornings, I thought “I need caffeine and sugar” (hey, I was young, freshly graduated from college, didn’t know about good nutrition) and I’d eat a cinnamon roll and have a dr. pepper for breakfast – I was experiencing a massive sugar crash! Duh!

    As soon as I cut that out, I had no problems staying awake and alert. Now it’s painfully obvious what was happening. The downside is that I did some damage to my reputation there. I have learned from it and started over fresh in my next job (which I moved to 4 years later). Everyone makes mistakes in their first big job. It’s how you become better at what you do. Yours ended a little abruptly, but it happens to the best of us.

    Forgive yourself (the hardest part) and learn from it. In the words of a good friend: Stand Tall, Be Strong, and Move Forward.

  36. Hang On*

    I’m not clear on something. Did OP fall asleep in a room with two other people and wake up to find them gone, and then just leave because it was 5:00? If this is the case, then it likely could have been averted by tracking someone down and apologizing profusely…

    1. fposte*

      Or emailing, or something. I think it’s the leaving it uncommented on that really nailed the situation–it looked like it was being taken for granted that it was okay until consequences appeared.

  37. Recent Diabetic*

    Not sure if this has been already addressed, but go get your blood sugar levels checked. I used to get really tired in the afternoons and in the evenings, and I realized after seeing my doc and getting blood work done that my diet was spiking my blood sugars making me super exhausted. I am slowly correcting my diet and it has greatly improved how i function during the day. Not feeling super tired or wanting to take a nap anymore.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This. And about this time of day a diabetic can really drop hard and fast.
      OP, there are other symptoms that go with diabetes- you might want to Google and see if this sounds like you. With adult-onset diabetes a person can go quite a while before they realize something is really amiss. And the low blood sugar brain fog makes it harder for people to figure out what is going on.
      Once you go to the doctor it is a little bit before you are diagnosed what this means is that someone in the work place could be juggling unknown symptoms and doctor’s appointments for a few weeks while the situation is hammered out.
      Having seen too much stuff happen at work, I would be more concerned about the person’s health than anything else. If the person had no medical basis for a problem and a careless attitude- well that would be a different story to me.

      I am hopeful that your solution is actually much simpler, OP. Perhaps by concentrating on drinking plenty of water, eating protein etc- you can patch this up nicely. Our routines at home are the basis of our professional performance- eating nutritious meals, exercise, hydration, etc. I found that it helps me to stay on track with these things if I think of it as “preparing for my work day.” And what happened to you– is what I fear could happen to me, if I did not work at this stuff. Happily, doing these seemingly “little” things, will help build your confidence back up. Just invest in you.

  38. E.R*

    I fell asleep at work once, too! I was going through a stressful time and was taking both sleeping pills occasionally to help me sleep, and vitamins because I wasn’t eating as well as I should have been. One morning, I popped a sleeping pill in the morning instead of a vitamin, had no clue (I walked to this particular job back then, thankfully) and passed out at my desk.
    Nobody noticed. I was both relieved and saddened by this.
    Anyways, I realize this doesn’t help the OP so much in the moment, unless she needs a reminder that we’re all flawed humans.

    1. Lily*

      I had a headache and I thought I took a pain reliever, but my husband had filled the bottle with his sleeping pills! Luckily this was on the weekend, because I was groggy all day.

      1. Jamie*

        I took a couple of store brand ibuprofen a couple of Saturdays ago…and didn’t see the little PM on the label. I slept for 18 hours. I can’t even take a benedril if I need to drive the next day – everyone has a different reaction to that kind of thing. Nothing like a medicinal surprise to kill your weekend.

    2. Lynn*

      Once I was a juror on a murder trial, and all 12 of us were nodding off and pinching ourselves to stay awake after lunch on day 3. It got so bad, someone on the courtroom staff (? not sure the right term here) asked the judge for a brief recess so we could go to our jury room and drink coffee or do jumping jacks or whatever we needed to do.

      Not because we were lazy or bored or didn’t care, at all. (That sure would be a coincidence, if 12 strangers all picked the same moment to very publicly slack off!) But in addition to the usual post-lunch slump, we were sitting in a warm stuffy room, we were not allowed to do anything but sit there, and I suspect a lot of us had short nights of sleep due to the shocking things we heard on days 1 and 2. At some point biology wins, and it can literally be impossible to will yourself to stay awake. Especially if you’re not allowed to do anything to stimulate yourself.

      I’m not saying the manager was wrong, because people certainly exist who just don’t take work seriously, and on day 1 it may make more sense to cut your losses than wait to see which kind you’re dealing with. But overpowering sleepiness really can happen to the best of us on occasion.

  39. nyxalinth*

    I got accused of falling asleep in a training class once. I hadn’t even closed my eyes, much less dozed off. But the temp agency said that that’s what they were told by the trainer, and well since they work for the client and not the employee, they didn’t care about my side. So I got the boot.

  40. CatB*

    I’ll go on a tangent here, so I apologize beforehand, but I really want to understand. I’ve read through all of the (about 150, at the moment) comments here and the overall vibe I get is “OP made a fire-able mistake but, hey, this happens, move on and don’t beat yourself (which I agree). The manager was a bit harsh / quick but understandably so“.

    What I don’t understand is: how come everyone is so lenient about the manager? I read Alison’s response, but I have to respectfully disagree this time. The human aspect notwithstanding (in my world that would require a whole discussion on its own), the manager’s knee-jerk reaction was not only unwarranted IMO, it was damaging to the business, in more ways than one.

    First, because hiring processes cost. Money, time, effort. So now the company incurred not once, but twice the cost of hiring. And all that with only “probable cause”, but no actual proof OP would have been a bad hire (I mean, OP was selected from several runners-up, so s/he did have something – skills, personality, potential; entry-level does not mean a trained monkey could do the job, right?).

    Second, because of the risk of “who’s next?” reaction of the ex-coworkers (yeah, I understand in US office culture sleeping on the job is like a federal crime; but I seem to remember that second-chance is not stranger to said culture, also).

    Third, because of the risk of shockwaves flying around that company. I get that this is a matter of risk assessment and it’s the manager’s call, but I dare say it was an erroneous call.

    All the points above mean damage to the business. Indirect, mostly, but a quick Google search on “productivity” and “morale” could point anyone in the right direction.

    That’s my stance on this matter. Not sugarcoating or anything for the OP, but were I the CEO of that company I would be very keen to find out the manager’s judgment and reasons for such a hasty decision – because, just like s/he saw the OP, ironically, that one manager might very well be a train wreck waiting to happen.

    1. Joey*

      Not sure where you are but in the US supervisors who don’t fire people sleeping on the job are generally the train wrecks.

      1. CatB*

        Yeah, that’s why I called it “knee-jerk reaction”. While still a Bad Thing, not every intance of sleeping /dozing on the job is the same in gravity, source and consequences. And “everybody does it so I should do it too” is a lame excuse for the laziness of not treating job situations on a case-by-case basis.

        1. Joey*

          I don’t think its laziness. I think its a pretty reasonable expectation for people to actually work when you pay them to work. And falling asleep on the job is far below that expectation.

      2. Fran*

        In the U.S. and elsewhere, supervisors who stubbornly refuse to budge from their stance, even after numerous people at or above their level have weighed in with potential mitigating factors, are also a train wreck waiting to happen. Because they could just as easily come down on the wrong side of a legal situation, refuse to be swayed, and invite a lawsuit. I need people I can trust not to plow headfirst into every situation and refuse to hear me screaming at them to stop.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well, sure, but some things are generally considered egregious enough to take swift action. Lots of good managers would fire someone in this case.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      I think you’re misreading the comments. I’d say it’s about split between people who think the manager was overly harsh and people who think the manager was justified.

  41. Seal*

    +1 on this. It sounds like the OP just nodded off at the end of a stressful, highly-anticipated day, not crawled off into the corner to take a nap. If a manager doesn’t understand how stressful the first few days on the job are, or doesn’t at least ask what’s going on before dropping the hammer, I’d start questioning their ability to manage. Perhaps the OP dodged a bullet on this one.

  42. Lesson to take*

    As someone who was in the minority of posters saying it’s important how you react after a mistake like this (see: address the elephant in the room), I think what would make a huge difference in the way I judge the manager’s actions is the answer to the question posted above by Hang On:

    “I’m not clear on something. Did OP fall asleep in a room with two other people and wake up to find them gone, and then just leave because it was 5:00? If this is the case, then it likely could have been averted by tracking someone down and apologizing profusely…”

    That was the point in my previous comment. If I’m a manager, witness an employee on the first day falling asleep, and either waking up on my presence, or after I left the room, I’d react very differently if the employee came to me to profusely apologize as soon as possible, vs. never say anything, and just wait to see what happened.

    In the latter scenario, I can completely understand the manager not trusting this employee to have good judgment. If he/she had come forward to acknowledge to the manager that what happened was serious, and promised it wasn’t going to happen again, then I would agree that the manager was in the wrong by not giving him/her another chance.

    (OP, this is more to the Internet at large, so others can learn from this mistake. Not an attempt to make you feel bad — in your case, I’d just take Alison’s advice, remove the job from your resume, and move on.)

  43. Anon*

    Just have to add that this is something they SO do not prepare you for in high school or college. I’m so glad I had an internship in college because boy did I find it difficult to stay awake my first week or two into that internship. It would have been awful if it was my first real job.

    It’s just tough when you’re used to a lot of stimuli and a night routine.

    The real wake up call for me was when a regular employee in the same room as me was fired for being chronically late and falling asleep a couple of times.

    Young people new to the workforce: Pandora and soda help a lot. I found, I couldn’t listen to my own music because it would put me to sleep – it had to be something new and unusual.

    Also, getting up to grab something (water, print job, etc) once every hour helps.

    OP, sorry this happened to you – really awful – and you arn’t an awful person for it.

  44. Anonymous*

    I have fallen asleep at work! Luckily, I actually fell asleep on my break and was woken up before I had to go back, but I know people I have worked with who have fallen asleep on their break and been late clocking back in (this is in a fast food restaurant by the way).

    If it makes you feel any better, I would say this is actually more common than you might think for people on their first day at a new job. I think a lot of people nod off only for a few seconds and then jerk awake and catch themselves before they get noticed enough to get into trouble though.

    The manager’s reaction was overly harsh in my opinion. However, if it’s your first day and he knows nothing about you, I guess he may be overly judging you on this one thing to avoid risking keeping you on in case you do this a lot.

    Where I work, if you are late (for example) on one of your first shifts, you automatically lose your job, but once you’re passed the first 2 weeks, you would just get a warning for being late. Maybe this is something like that.

    1. Lindsay*

      Oh! I’ve done the falling asleep on break, thing, too! I was working retail and a night job, and during my 30 minute break I would eat, and then put my head down on the table in the food court for whatever minutes I could. I’d set a cell phone alarm to make sure I headed back to work at the appropriate time.

      Well, one time I fell asleep and failed to set my alarm or slept through my alarm or something because I passed out in the food court for three hours! I only woke up because some kind person was worried that I had passed out due to illness or something and shook me awake.

      My managers at the time laughed at me and told me they had assumed I fell asleep somewhere, and had checked the employee break room and my car to see if they could find me and wake me up. They did severely cut my hours soon after that.

  45. Jamie*

    Just occurred to me that the dating analogy works here, too.

    One a first date if your partner falls asleep on the way home you probably won’t want to see them again. If you’re long term SO crashes during a movie because they are exhausted you’ll probably cover them with a blanket and catch them up later.

    That’s why first impressions are so important – because it’s all the other person has of you so you won’t get as much slack as someone they are already into.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Although, I would argue that you should be patient in a dating scenario too. My current boyfriend was so nervous and awkward our first couple of dates that I very nearly gave up on him. I’m glad I gave him a third date :)

    2. Justin*

      If we had a great time and I liked her, she could doze off on the ride home. Heck, if we’re out that late I’d take it as a very good sign!

  46. Anonymous*

    I feel asleep on the first day of work once. Similar to the OP, I was straight out of school, had finished my last exam the day before and then went to work. And as with many first days at new jobs, my boss handed me a stack of technical reports and legislation and left me to read for 5 hours! I defn had the head bob going on..but I don’t think anyone noticed.

    So I defn feel for you OP and sorry your supervisor wasn’t more understanding…

  47. Not So NewReader*

    Just something to think about to help with perspective here OP- look at the news on any given day. People are getting fired ALL the time for doing horrible, horrible things on the job. Then they get rehired somewhere else!

    I can’t figure it out at all.

    You’ll be okay.

  48. Megg*

    I hate to admit it but I almost did the same thing. It was my first day at a great (as in I’ve-always-wanted-to-work-here-great) job, my first out of graduate school. At around 4pm there was a big meeting with our entire professional community – a great chance for me to meet everyone. About 45 minutes into the meeting I felt myself dozing. The meeting wasn’t boring at all – it was on a topic I loved and found super interesting! I think I was just so overwhelmed that first day – I was exhausted. Luckily, only one person noticed and we laughed about it later. I’m still at my job and couldn’t be happier – and also have certainly never fallen asleep again!

  49. likesdesifem*

    I think being the first day is crucial in this context. Had the OP been an employee of tenure and/or good performance, the issue would not have been as marked.

    It’s obvious to me that that employer felt it wasn’t worth his while on the first day, and to some extent I agree.

    However, sleeping on the job per se is not always bad. to presume it is is silly. One could have a medical condition, a newborn baby to look after, a sleeping condition that interferes with regular sleep, etc. in any case of poor performance (bar serious cases, such as assault, theft, vandalism or sexual harassment, which may warrant instant dismissal) a good manager should have an informal chat with the employee to find out why xyz occurred.

    I feel if the OP had been around for, say, 6 months or more, then it wouldn’t have been an issue. His manager may have said “I must say I was shocked to see you sleeping at your desk. Is something wrong that’s causing this?”

  50. Penny*

    I def. agree with AAM. College really does not prepare students for working life. You can schedule your classes and breaks on your own and change it by semester if you want. After my first semester in college, I never scheduled another class before 10 AM (9 in unavoidable circumstances!) and I was able to walk to class in 10 minutes wearing anything I wanted. You get into a job and have to wake up super early to dress professionally/hair/makeup etc, deal w/ the long commute and sit in a chair for 8 hours, then more traffic- this takes some adjustment (especially for those of us non-morning people).

    Don’t let it destroy you and don’t mention it on your resume/applications, but never do it again!

  51. Manda*

    Ya know, if you really don’t want to lie about having been fired you could just say yes anyway, even though it will hurt your chances of getting an interview. Then when questioned, say that you had a hard time sleeping the night before your first day and got off to a bad start. Just don’t actually say you fell asleep.

  52. Mishsmom*

    OP, we have all (or most of us) made a mistake in a new (or old) job that we cringe about later. AAM is right, just move on from it – and it’ll be a funny story down the road. no shame in being human. :)

    that said, i am really surprised that no one here seems to think it’s a huge deal. yes we all make mistakes, but i guess i just don’t get falling asleep on your first day of the job (i get it after a few years under certain circumstances – but on the first day?) i don’t get not calling in when you are sick. it seems to me, if something is important enough to you an effort needs to be made to keep it. if i just spent 2 years (or 2 weeks) looking for a job and it’s a good one, and a good fit, i make sure not to fall asleep, or be late (i leave an extra half hour early just to make sure) – especially because this new supervisor does not know me – and this is my chance at a good impression.

    i know i sound pretentious and holier than thou and i really don’t mean it to sound that way – believe me, i do stupid stuff at work just like everyone else (or embarrassingly worse sometimes) and say the completely wrong thing, etc. i figure if my new employee can’t make an effort to stay awake or call in when they’re sick (the other poster) in the first week or even the first month – when even if you’re a serial killer you fake loving people and pets – then they’re not going to be a good fit – because if they can’t make an effort at the beginning – when will they? (kind of like dating – if they’re not making an effort on the first date, it ain’t gonna get better from there)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, it’s a big deal — it’s reasonable to fire her over it. It’s just not a big deal in the sense that she doesn’t need to feel haunted by it forever.

      1. Justin*

        She nodded of in front of them. Sounds completely unintentional and not reflective of her effort on the first day. Sometimes you just nod off without realizing it.

    2. Fee*

      I really don’t think not calling in sick and falling asleep at your desk are the same thing. Not calling in is an active decision and usually a breach of your employment terms. Falling asleep is beyond your control (unless it’s a result of lifestyle choices).

      I’m a bit late to this but just to reassure the OP, I have about 15 years’ employment experience and an excellent professional record. I started a new job about 3 months ago and in the first week during an extended period of sitting alongside someone at a desk while they walked me through a computer system I had to physically force myself to keep my eyes open and would say I dozed off for maybe a few seconds. I’d had a (self-imposed) break from work for a few months, so similarly this was a big change to my routine. If Alison says below it’s not unreasonable to fire someone over it then I bow to her experience but I find it a really surprising decision. It was unintentional and quite possibly something you will NEVER do again in your professional career so I think to fire you after the first day for it is frankly a bit nuts.

  53. Rachit Aggarwal*

    I am sure one day you will make big and then, when you looked back at this, you will laugh.

    Don’t be depressed (Although it is very easy to say from my position) but I would recommend only 1 thing to you, Do yoga, run and take care of your health, read some good spiritual books and rest everything will take care automatically.

    Just accept the life and then you will see the vast surprises it has in store for you

  54. Justin*

    I think it’s pretty unreasonable to fire someone THAT fast. I’d give them the benefit of the doubt and second chance. Sure, if they did it again, I’d fire them, but if they seemed really great otherwise, I wouldn’t fire them for unintentionally dozing off.

  55. Anon*

    Given the situation, I hope he/she still tried to leave on good terms with someone in that office. I showed up to an interview 2 hours LATE (first job interview in college btw). I was MORTIFIED. By some act of a higher being I still landed the job. Afterwards I discovered that I wasn’t the person originally received the job offer, but that person had turned it down. So who knows?

  56. Anon*

    I am going thru this right now, and I really haven’t known that I was falling asleep on the job. If I had, I DEFINITELY would have gotten up when I felt sleepy and did something so that it wouldn’t happen. Now I am in the position of having to set an alarm every hour, take caffeine pills and go to a doctor to get checked out (once again). And the boss knows that I have sleep apnea, diabetes, heart disease, etc. It doesn’t seem to matter. I still have a verbal warning and corrective action looming over my head. That doesn’t seem quite fair to me. I get 6-7 hours of sleep a night; can’t seem to get more because I wake up and can’t get back to sleep. How do you counteract something like this? While I may understand my boss’ viewpoint, I also understand my own — and it’s a horrible position to be in, especially after nearly 40 years of glowing work performance!

  57. Sweet and Petite*

    Anon, congrats on trying to stay awake at work. I hope you haven’t been driving yourself, though. Lack of sleep plus driving equals poor judgement. There’s also a chance you’ll fall asleep at the wheel, which puts your life and others’ at stake. Yeah, I can see why your boss is concerned, especially if your problem is getting worse. BTW: My sleep problems were caused by prolonged stress and a major shift in my sleep cycle in college. Long story short, I took more credit hours than I could handle. I worked on homework from the time I got up all the way until the time I went to bed, which was at 2 am(I got four hours of sleep every night. I require at least 6 to function properly.). Sure, I could’ve dropped a class, but I had already made it half way through the semester. I decided to stick it out then take a lighter credit load the following semester, instead(I passed them all, but my GPA suffered.). After the semester was over, I waited for my sleep schedule to go back to normal. It never happened. Instead, I was grumpy for a year then I felt drowsy all day, every day the second year(I caught myself dozing off in class a few times. They were 30 second micro-sleeps. The teachers looked concerned, but didn’t say anything. I’m sure they would’ve if my grades were suffering.). It turned out that I wasn’t getting the deep sleep I needed(I could sleep for 6 hours, 9 at the most, and still feel really drowsy.). I found this out when I started drinking chamomile tea and warm milk before bed. It’s helped me a lot. Now all I have to do now is get my sleep cycle back to where I had it. It’s been fun being a night owl and all, but I miss being a morning person.

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